Biodiversity is indispensable for sustainable growth
Protecting and restoring ecosystems is vital for our long-term prosperity, and natural capital is an area with high potential for innovative investment. Green Week 2015 showcased some successful blending of biodiversity and economic objectives, while also seeking ways of drawing more funds towards preserving natural capital.
Fruit and vine growers in the Rhône valley have long recognised that ecosystems and biodiversity are the backbone of their economy, and their need for pure water has made them strong supporters of nature protection. Alain Chabrolle, vice-president of the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council, explained how his region had commissioned a study to evaluate ecosystem services and was investing in projects that benefit both the environment and the economy.
Milos Labovic, Province of Zeeland
Helping communities slow the flow of water towards the Mediterranean by reversing soil-sealing, protecting pollinators, and incorporating eco-corridors into local planning laws were all steps in the right direction: “These projects require discussion, investment, engineering, management and governance structures. They also create jobs,” he said.
Europe has considerable potential for creating a “restoration economy” with benefits to ecosystems and the economy, and multiple co-benefits in areas like climate change. It is an area where the EU has the potential to lead.
Zeeland, in the Netherlands, for example, is using aquaculture methods that provide sustainable solutions, from the magnetic collection of mussel seeds to closed-loop sole farming. “You need trust to bridge the gap between business and conservation pressure groups, and include citizens,” said Milos Labovic from the provincial government. “Providing information is not enough; you need to be in a real dialogue.”
The challenge is how to scale up these approaches. Justin Adams from the Nature Conservancy, a US conservation trust that has protected 50 million hectares worldwide in the past 60 years, advocated a landscape-level approach to land management, when deciding where to site infrastructure and farmland, for instance. “Nature figured out hundreds of millions of years ago a brilliant way of capturing and storing carbon: trees and soils, which store many times our annual emissions. Reforesting would produce multiple benefits for society, storing and locking up carbon and creating millions of jobs,” he said.
Encouraging investment in natural capital
The scope for private-sector investment in natural capital was also a focus of attention. “Investment in nature can pay off,” said Leonardo Mazza from the European Environmental Bureau, “but there are barriers.” Relatively low rates of return, lack of expertise in natural capital in banks, and uncertainty about results often deter private investors, he said.
Innovative funding instruments offer one solution, making better use of limited public money to leverage private investment. In February, the EIB and the European Commission launched the Natural Capital Financing Facility, to demonstrate that natural capital investments can generate revenues or save costs, whilst delivering on biodiversity and climate adaptation objectives.
Ritva Toivonen, CEO of the Tapio Group, provided one example of payments for ecosystem services. In Finland, where over 70 % of land is covered by forests, the Tapio Group launched their market-based Forest Biodiversity Programme METSO in 2008. It means that landowners keep control of their property and are paid for the ecosystem services they provide.